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U.S. Department of Justice 

Office of the Deputy Attorney General 

The Deputy Attorney General 

Washington, D.C. 20530 

August 29, 2013 



James M. Cole — 
Deputy Attorney General 

SUBJECT: Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement 

In October 2009 and June 201 1, the Department issued guidance to federal prosecutors 
concerning marijuana enforcement under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This 
memorandum updates that guidance in light of state ballot initiatives that legalize under state law 
the possession of small amounts of marijuana and provide for the regulation of marijuana 
production, processing, and sale. The guidance set forth herein applies to all federal enforcement 
activity, including civil enforcement and criminal investigations and prosecutions, concerning 
marijuana in all states. 

As the Department noted in its previous guidance, Congress has determined that 
marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious 
crime that provides a significant source of revenue to large-scale criminal enterprises, gangs, and 
cartels. The Department of Justice is committed to enforcement of the CSA consistent with 
those determinations. The Department is also committed to using its limited investigative and 
prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats in the most effective, consistent, 
and rational way. In furtherance of those objectives, as several states enacted laws relating to the 
use of marijuana for medical purposes, the Department in recent years has focused its efforts on 
certain enforcement priorities that are particularly important to the federal government: 

» Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors; 

» Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, 
and cartels; 

» Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in 

some form to other states; 
« Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for 

the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity; 

Memorandum for All United States Attorneys 
Subject: Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement 

Page 2 

• Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of 

• Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health 
consequences associated with marijuana use; 

• Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and 
environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and 

• Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property. 

These priorities will continue to guide the Department's enforcement of the CSA against 
marijuana-related conduct. Thus, this memorandum serves as guidance to Department attorneys 
and law enforcement to focus their enforcement resources and efforts, including prosecution, on 
persons or organizations whose conduct interferes with any one or more of these priorities, 
regardless of state law. 1 

Outside of these enforcement priorities, the federal government has traditionally relied on 
states and local law enforcement agencies to address marijuana activity through enforcement of 
their own narcotics laws. For example, the Department of Justice has not historically devoted 
resources to prosecuting individuals whose conduct is limited to possession of small amounts of 
marijuana for personal use on private property. Instead, the Department has left such lower-level 
or localized activity to state and local authorities and has stepped in to enforce the CSA only 
when the use, possession, cultivation, or distribution of marijuana has threatened to cause one of 
the harms identified above. 

The enactment of state laws that endeavor to authorize marijuana production, 
distribution, and possession by establishing a regulatory scheme for these purposes affects this 
traditional joint federal-state approach to narcotics enforcement. The Department's guidance in 
this memorandum rests on its expectation that states and local governments that have enacted 
laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and 
enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, 
public health, and other law enforcement interests. A system adequate to that task must not only 
contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice. 
Jurisdictions that have implemented systems that provide for regulation of marijuana activity 

1 These enforcement priorities are listed in general terms; each encompasses a variety of conduct 
that may merit civil or criminal enforcement of the CSA. By way of example only, the 
Department's interest in preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors would call for 
enforcement not just when an individual or entity sells or transfers marijuana to a minor, but also 
when marijuana trafficking takes place near an area associated with minors; when marijuana or 
marijuana-infused products are marketed in a manner to appeal to minors; or when marijuana is 
being diverted, directly or indirectly, and purposefully or otherwise, to minors. 

Memorandum for All United States Attorneys 
Subject: Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement 

Page 3 

must provide the necessary resources and demonstrate the willingness to enforce their laws and 
regulations in a manner that ensures they do not undermine federal enforcement priorities. 

In jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form and that have 
also implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the 
cultivation, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana, conduct in compliance with those 
laws and regulations is less likely to threaten the federal priorities set forth above. Indeed, a 
robust system may affirmatively address those priorities by, for example, implementing effective 
measures to prevent diversion of marijuana outside of the regulated system and to other states, 
prohibiting access to marijuana by minors, and replacing an illicit marijuana trade that funds 
criminal enterprises with a tightly regulated market in which revenues are tracked and accounted 
for. In those circumstances, consistent with the traditional allocation of federal-state efforts in 
this area, enforcement of state law by state and local law enforcement and regulatory bodies 
should remain the primary means of addressing marijuana-related activity. If state enforcement 
efforts are not sufficiently robust to protect against the harms set forth above, the federal 
government may seek to challenge the regulatory structure itself in addition to continuing to 
bring individual enforcement actions, including criminal prosecutions, focused on those harms. 

The Department's previous memoranda specifically addressed the exercise of 
prosecutorial discretion in states with laws authorizing marijuana cultivation and distribution for 
medical use. In those contexts, the Department advised that it likely was not an efficient use of 
federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on seriously ill individuals, or on their individual 
caregivers. In doing so, the previous guidance drew a distinction between the seriously ill and 
their caregivers, on the one hand, and large-scale, for-profit commercial enterprises, on the other, 
and advised that the latter continued to be appropriate targets for federal enforcement and 
prosecution. In drawing this distinction, the Department relied on the common-sense judgment 
that the size of a marijuana operation was a reasonable proxy for assessing whether marijuana 
trafficking implicates the federal enforcement priorities set forth above. 

As explained above, however, both the existence of a strong and effective state regulatory 
system, and an operation's compliance with such a system, may allay the threat that an 
operation's size poses to federal enforcement interests. Accordingly, in exercising prosecutorial 
discretion, prosecutors should not consider the size or commercial nature of a marijuana 
operation alone as a proxy for assessing whether marijuana trafficking implicates the 
Department's enforcement priorities listed above. Rather, prosecutors should continue to review 
marijuana cases on a case-by-case basis and weigh all available information and evidence, 
including, but not limited to, whether the operation is demonstrably in compliance with a strong 
and effective state regulatory system. A marijuana operation's large scale or for-profit nature 
may be a relevant consideration for assessing the extent to which it undermines a particular 
federal enforcement priority. The primary question in all cases - and in all jurisdictions - should 
be whether the conduct at issue implicates one or more of the enforcement priorities listed above. 

Memorandum for All United States Attorneys 
Subject: Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement 

Page 4 

As with the Department's previous statements on this subject, this memorandum is 
intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion. This 
memorandum does not alter in any way the Department's authority to enforce federal law, 
including federal laws relating to marijuana, regardless of state law. Neither the guidance herein 
nor any state or local law provides a legal defense to a violation of federal law, including any 
civil or criminal violation of the CSA. Even in jurisdictions with strong and effective regulatory 
systems, evidence that particular conduct threatens federal priorities will subject that person or 
entity to federal enforcement action, based on the circumstances. This memorandum is not 
intended to, does not, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, 
enforceable at law by any party in any matter civil or criminal. It applies prospectively to the 
exercise of prosecutorial discretion in future cases and does not provide defendants or subjects of 
enforcement action with a basis for reconsideration of any pending civil action or criminal 
prosecution. Finally, nothing herein precludes investigation or prosecution, even in the absence 
of any one of the factors listed above, in particular circumstances where investigation and 
prosecution otherwise serves an important federal interest. 

cc: Mythili Raman 

Acting Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division 

Loretta E. Lynch 

United States Attorney 

Eastern District of New York 

Chair, Attorney General's Advisory Committee 

Michele M. Leonhart 

Drug Enforcement Administration 

H. Marshall Jarrett 

Executive Office for United States Attorneys 

Ronald T. Hosko 

Assistant Director 

Criminal Investigative Division 

Federal Bureau of Investigation